Why Everything You Do Wrong Is Right

You are not a screw-up. You are not lazy. You work hard. Too hard. At things that don’t matter. You work hard at struggling and self-blame and self-hate. You work hard at worrying. You work hard at pacing the floor. You work hard at imagining terrifying, low-probability contingencies. You work hard on trying to force yourself, like a stubborn camel, to do things you don’t want to do in a way you don’t want to do them.

And it doesn’t work. It almost never works.

So what do you do?

USE EVEN MORE FORCE! You tell the whole world your goals, in order to force social pressure onto you. You write yourself expletive-laden notes, memos and messages. You use all-caps so that you DON’T FORGET. You try to get yourself to be a gentleman, to be a lady, to be more cultured, more civilized, by being increasingly cruel and uncivil and ungentle to yourself.

And therein lies the problem. You’re violating the very principles you claim to value in order to instill those same principles. Sort of like a parent screaming: “STOP F###ING SWEARING!!!!”. Sort of like violently invading a country and then imposing military rule on it, in order to turn into a peaceful, pluralistic, self-sustaining democracy. It would be comical if you weren’t so serious about it.

Did not the man of one stone tell us that you can’t solve a problem at using the same level of thinking that created it? You can’t beat and berate yourself into finesse. You can’t scare yourself into calming down. You can’t binge yourself into balanced behavior 1.

Try this on for size: everything you do is right. Even when it’s wrong. Everything you do is right. Everything you do is structurally right. How do I know? Because you’re doing it. If it weren’t structured right, you couldn’t do it, you wouldn’t do it, and you wouldn’t keep doing it.

Everything you do is a solution to a problem. The solution you’re choosing may be misguided, laborious and/or counterproductive, but it doesn’t change the fact that you were sincerely trying to solve a problem. You are a good person who sometimes picks (very) bad solutions.

Everything you do is right. It may or may not be misguided, but it’s right. So when you watch TV instead of touching that important project? You did a (not the, but a) right thing. The solution is simple: make the thing you’re “supposed” to be doing more like watching TV. (Re-) model your desired behavior on your avoidance behavior. Your avoidance behavior is pointing you to something; your avoidance behavior is structured in such a way that makes it fun, and what’s more, this structure is independent of the actual content of the behavior. Make your “work” function and proceed like “play”.

Here’s something of an example:

  • Example: You keep looking up Cracked.com or TVTropes.org instead of doing Japanese.
    • Solution 0: Feel guilty and berate yourself. Do it hard, so you feel like a total schmuck and don’t want to do anything (let alone keep living) any more. This is what you and most other people typically do. Hint: stop choosing this one.
    • Solution 1: Find a Japanese equivalent to Cracked.com (or TVTropes.org)
    • Solution 2: Google Japanese websites that talk about Cracked.com (or TVTropes.org or whatever) and how funny it is
    • Solution 3: Google Japanese discussions (blogs, vlogs, fora, books, etc.) about one or more of the weird topics you find yourself reading and laughing about on Cracked.com (or TVTropes.org). There are plenty of Japanese websites about weirdness in movies and surprising scientific phenomena and whatnot. In fact, because Hollywood movies are a foreign (if common) phenomenon in Japan, Japanese viewers are even more naturally able to “step outside” them and point out the unconscious clichés, genreisms and strangely recurring lines of dialog.
    • Solution 4: Roll your own. Make up something weird but easy.

The point is, don’t look away from what you’re doing “wrong” as if it were some dirty, shameful thing, like a regretfully randy hook-up that you’re now embarrassed about. Look at it 2 deeply and directly and from many angles and see how you can use (part of) it for good — like using nuclear power for electricity instead of burning children and teddy bears.

We tend to talk and get upset about what we’re not doing, as if our “non-productive” times were spent in a state of catatonia, holding rigid for hours, staring at a wall, literally doing nothing. But we’re actually always doing something. We talk about how we’re “not practicing Japanese”, when in fact we are simply practicing English. We are always doing something, and if we’re not doing something else, it’s because that something else is very poorly structured, because if it were correctly structured…we’d be doing it.

“But I have to do the work, Khatz!”, you protest. Do you? You have to learn Japanese? No, you don’t. You could not do it. In fact, you’re already not doing it right now. And you’re still alive. You don’t have to do anything. Other people tell you that just to get you to STFU and follow their orders. Pretty much the only thing you have to do is breathe, and yet that’s one of the first things you stop doing — worried people tend to take very shallow breaths, as well as subconsciously hold their breath — as soon as you’re a bit scared. I’m not saying they won’t try to do mean things to you in order to get you to do the thing you didn’t do, but that just means new situations and new choices.

So how do you turn “work” into “play”? I do not know exactly; each situation varies. But here are some tips:

  • Figure out a way to avoid doing it altogether. Like, totally not do it at all, not simply delay it.

Failing that…

Games are not inherently interesting, only structurally interesting. Copy the structure — variety, flexible challenges, clear goals, immediate feedback — reverse-engineer the Steele equation, and you win.


  1. Which is probably why crash diets don’t work, at least behaviorally. Apparently there are some metabolic issues with them as well.
  2. Kind of like how you look at the solids and liquids that come out of your body (don’t make me get specific) with child-like curiosity.
  3. like Wayne Gretzky (apparently) inexplicably skating into open, puckless space.
  4. We constantly abandon the now and the good enough in pursuit of the perfect, but, if you play the etymology game, to be perfect (think: perfect tense) means to be complete, finished, done with — dead. Nothing that lives, that is alive and growing and changing can be perfect. Perfection is death. Maybe that’s why we love people so much when they’re dead ;) .

  20 comments for “Why Everything You Do Wrong Is Right

  1. Thomas Smith
    July 12, 2014 at 15:54

    What if you’re getting used to the “wrong” language? Is that still “right”? How the heck do you decide something like that?

    • 雷撃
      September 26, 2014 at 15:14

      In a way, yes, yes it is right! You already know at least one language, and you’re “just” getting another one for free. That probably means you can learn even more languages… How come you are getting used to that “wrong” language of yours? Copy that behaviour and paste it straight into the language that you want to learn.

      There are no “right” or “wrong” languages, they’re all beautiful (unlike women, whoever said so is a lair). They have a lot of things in common (not grammer, grammer sucks), but a “feeling”, feel more languages and you can feel others easier. It’s like hitting on women, it get’s easier some how, get’s your confidence up when you score. So just keep scoring, because unlike women, there are no bitches and they never stand you up. They’re easy, always waiting for you, you just have to show up!

  2. Pingfa
    July 12, 2014 at 16:59

    “Everything you do is a solution to a problem.”

    I like it. Everything is a solution, one way or another. Nice way of thinking about it.
    There’s a lot of nice stuff in this article. Quite right, telling a child to “STOP F###ING SWEARING!!!!” is counter-intuitive, as is learning anything by forcing oneself not to like something. The TV analogy is good – you want to watch TV in L2, so you try and watch less TV? You want to have fun in a language, so you stop doing fun things? It’s like trying to get kids hooked on history by forcing them to memorize textbooks.

    I believe the golden rule is, as mentioned, to keep in mind the trivialness of it all. You don’t have to do it. You don’t need to do anything right now. Everyone stops breathing eventually, regardless of whether you did your reps today.

    Thomas, I don’t think there is a ‘wrong’ language, any more than there’s a wrong book to read or a wrong game to play. If you don’t like a video game, you can play a different one. If you’re having trouble finding media that tickles your fancy in your target language, you can always stick with what you know – you don’t necessarily have to seek out authentic material; you can watch dubs, read translations, play translated games. Or you could just browse and see where it takes you.

  3. Vian
    August 20, 2014 at 15:04

    Where are you Khatz? You haven’t posted in over a month! Not upset or anything, just worried D:

    • August 20, 2014 at 17:09

      He posted today on ajatt+.

  4. August 20, 2014 at 18:42

    Yup, actually worried here too! No Twitter or nothing!

  5. Dan
    August 21, 2014 at 08:51

    Khatz was posting every 5 days for awhile and then I thought he was just taking a break. Now I’m a bit worried as well.

    • だんちゃん
      September 3, 2014 at 21:51

      Yeah I noticed. I would be nice if he surprises us with an updated/cleaned up site though. This current one is becoming a bit of a mess.

  6. Ravibot
    August 26, 2014 at 05:10

    Khatz, I miss you!

    Hope you’re okay :(

  7. Ravibot
    August 30, 2014 at 00:28

    Okay, now i’m worried.

    • August 30, 2014 at 05:09

      I think he’s fine. He’s just been working on this [How To Speak Japanese Like A Real Man,
      Not Your Girlfriend, Wife, Secretary,
      School Marm or Host Mother | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time]
      Basically, it’s a bunch of sentences, and audio of “manly” Japanese… There’s a lot there. i can kinda see why he took a month+ off.

      • anon1
        August 30, 2014 at 20:06

        i was very worried too. long time anonymous reader. i’m talking years, and just got back to check in and see he hasn’t posted in a huge amount of time. made me sad, as his blog even outside of language stuff is amazing

  8. Nate
    August 30, 2014 at 19:28

    Khatz is training in the Himalayas to learn how to make fire come out of his punches.

    Relax everybody.

  9. Livonor
    August 30, 2014 at 23:46

    I found some cool stuff that I want to share with you guys, it’s the japanese bible written in “colloquial” (non-literary non-historical) Japanese with furigana


    The file names are in Portuguese but the actual pdfs are in Japanese. I wanted to post that on the forum but I don’t have an account :/

    • 雷撃
      September 26, 2014 at 15:22

      有り難う、Livonor. いい掘り出し物が見つかったね!

  10. Sara
    September 1, 2014 at 10:01

    That’s good! I was starting to get worried…

  11. Cush
    September 15, 2014 at 01:00

    Well if you don’t like the website you’re more than welcome to not read it. Or better yet, instead of wasting time telling Khatz off, why not use that time to study some Japanese?!? It’s not like you’re paying to read this site. Chill out!

  12. Anita
    October 2, 2014 at 04:50

    This statement “the more a job inherently resembles a game – with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals and immediate feedback – the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development” is my motivation to go to work today! I hope things get better :D

  13. Ri
    October 23, 2014 at 02:13

    The Google list really hit home. That’s exactly what I did when I was first starting out. I read blogs in Japanese, I blogged in Japanese myself. For some reason now that I’ve started to get into the blogging game again, I’m more English-centricーthe blogs I read are in English, and I write mostly only in English because writing in Japanese is “hard”… Definitely need to fix that. I love being able to figure things out, and learn more about what people are actually thinking about in Japan rather than rely on secondhand sources. It’s time to take back the control! (She says, as she actually has another 10 mins allotted to catch up on AJATT blog posts. <-after that, I promise! I have a timer and everything!) Thank you always for motivating!

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